The best magical realism books

The Books I Picked & Why

So Far from God

By Ana Castillo

Book cover of So Far from God

Why this book?

When I read So Far From God, it did two things. First, it helped me understand this genre that was created by Latin American authors. Lois Parkinson Zamora said, “Magical realism is characterized by...its capacity to create (magical) meanings by envisioning ordinary things in extraordinary ways.” I understood what that meant when I read So Far From God. In the first chapter alone, one of the main characters, La Loca, dies and comes back to life. Her death was ordinary and extraordinary. I was hooked. 

Perhaps more importantly, in reading Castillo’s novel, I saw our shared Latina history, culture, and perspective through the stories she told. It was the first book that validated my experience as a Latina which is why it’ll always be close to my heart.


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The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts

By Maxine Hong Kingston

Book cover of The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts

Why this book?

Most people think magical realism is limited to fiction, but Maxine Hong Kingston proves that it can be used for memoir, too. This was the first non-fiction form of magical realism that I ever read, and it broadened the genre for me. I think the biggest element of magical realism found in this memoir is her thematic use of ghosts. Readers might have a hard time figuring out if certain characters are really ghosts or not, and that vagueness is one of the most beautiful elements of magical realism. 


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Melmoth

By Sarah Perry

Book cover of Melmoth

Why this book?

My favorite thing about magical realism is that it is often used to discuss social and cultural issues, colonialism, the powerful and elite, environmental issues, racism, war, homophobia, genocide, and more. It can also be used to talk about social issues that are equally as important but maybe not as heavy. That’s why I love Melmoth by Sarah Perry – because magical realism is used to cover a gambit of social and historical issues. 

In the novel, Perry focuses on a mythical figure called Melmoth the Witness who preys upon people in the darkest moments of their lives. Through this mythical figure, Perry discusses everything from Nazi Germany to fear, sins, loneliness, and self-loathing with a magical lens. I loved the grit and darkness of this magical realism story and I know you will too.


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The Hummingbird's Daughter

By Luis Alberto Urrea

Book cover of The Hummingbird's Daughter

Why this book?

The Hummingbird’s Daughter is the first in a two-part book series about a real-life woman known as Teresita, a curandera (or Mexican folk healer) and revolutionary figure who was born in Mexico and lived in the U.S. for some time. Urrea, a descendant of Teresita, fictionalizes her life in the book. I hope readers fall in love with Teresita’s story and share it with others because she is one of many figures in North American history that we should all know.  

The magical realism in this novel makes an appearance through Teresita’s healing powers as a curandera. I’ve been obsessed with curanderismo, or the folk healing practice of Latin America that combines Indigenous and Catholic beliefs and practices, since I was in college. This is why curanderas make appearances in both my books.


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Midnight's Children

By Salman Rushdie

Book cover of Midnight's Children

Why this book?

In Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie takes a real point in history – when India becomes independent at midnight on August 15, 1947 – and turned it into a magical event. At the same time that India is born into its own country, 1,000 children are born with magical gifts. These magical children’s lives are often connected to the history of their nation, which in itself, is such a cool concept. I loved that Rushdie helps us understand a new country and its people through the lives of his characters. His writing and storytelling are beautiful. I know you’ll think so too. 


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